Monday, February 13, 2017

City on the Bay

By John R. Sherwood, ©1964
Cover illustration by Henry Fox

Texan Mike Rayburn left his post in the American city-hospital and flew across the world to Sydney, Australia. To the bridge, the harbor; to the city and world that was newer even somehow than the one he had left behind. On an exchange agreement, he was on loan for six months to the huge research hospital on the outskirts of the sprawling, brawling, exciting city. He was sorry to leave behind his friends and colleagues, and in particular his fiancée, Susan, with whom he had shared so much during his training and the unending strife of a surgeon’s life. But he was glad to carry the battle further afield, to meet new people, learn new methods. In this other city within a city he met the same dedication, the same loves, the same hates and envies. He met other men who were like himself; other men who pretended to be like himself and were not. He met women too, and one in particular who sought his love … and a strange man who sought his friendship.

GRADE: B-

BEST QUOTES:
“A surgeon was just a glorified plumber.”

“I would have liked to be a surgeon. But I suppose that most women just haven’t got the manual strength and skill.”

“Mike Rayburn couldn’t help feeling that the teenager today was a mass-produced product, irrespective of race, creed or language. They had bags of verve though, he had to give them that.”

“ ‘I enjoyed the rock and roll more than I expected,’ she said. ‘It’s a fine catharsis. A bit wearing on the nerves, however.’ ”

REVIEW:
The hero of our story, Mike Rayburn, is not a nurse—he is a doctor from Texas offered a six-month-long fellowship at a research hospital in Sydney, Australia. This means two things: One, he will have to leave his fiancée nurse Susan Carter behind, and two, this book is not a nurse novel.

When Mike breaks the news to Susan that they will be parted for half a year, just when she was expecting to finally get married next month, she is pissed! So he hadn’t asked her to move up the ceremony and come with him, and when he meets beautiful fellow fellow Dr. Linda Purnell, he seems to forget Susan ever existed.

Linda is quickly established as an intelligent and thoughtful doctor heading the dermatology lab. Sophisticated yet guileless, “she could meet most males squarely on their own ground.” Soon she and Mike are great friends, friends who kiss and throw their arms around each other and don’t mention their fiancées waiting for them back home. They go on a lot of dates, and Mike frets that “though he always kissed Linda goodnight before leaving her, their relationship didn’t seem to be getting any further, any more intimate.” Mike is something of a louse.

We follow Mike through various medical adventures, the aforementioned dates with Linda, and his regular but infrequent and unsuccessful struggles with his conscience. Eventually he drops his wallet and a photo of Susan falls out, and that’s that. In a few more rapid-fire pages, the book perfunctorily disposes of all the characters we’ve met to date, including Susan, who writes a very pretty letter of apology to Mike for not having been more supportive. Linda takes a job in Honolulu and never sees Mike again, but sends him a fairly tragic letter saying that she’s seeing a lot of an old friend whom she doesn’t love but who proposes regularly, concluding, “Perhaps one day I will say yes. I am very fond of him and he would make a fine husband. He would want me to give up my hospital work though, and I don’t know whether I am ready to do this yet.” So while Mike walks away with a satisfying career, a loyal fiancée, and a fairly successful fling with a beautiful and intelligent woman, Linda seems destined for a loveless marriage and the forced abandonment of the career she has worked nearly a decade for.


It’s an entertaining book, if poorly copy edited (you know how I just abhor that) and a bit unchivalrous. Linda is by far the most attractive character in the book, inside and out, and her heart is clearly broken by Mike, who does not spend much time feeling bad about his behavior. It’s hard to watch someone win the game when they do not deserve to. I have to wonder who the intended audience is for this story, but if the women characters are as a rule better drawn and more interesting than the men, neither Susan nor Linda deserve the way they are treated by our alleged hero, who is clearly a cavalier and shallow ass. We are not told if Mike mentions his affair with Linda to Susan, but I’m guessing he never gets around to that, either. I might forgive him if he demonstrated any significant remorse or self-awareness of his failures in this situation, but in the end all we’re left with his is sad wish, “If only Western men were allowed more than one wife …” For my part, I’m going to lament that I spent so much time with such a callow ass. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Daredevil Nurse

By Arlene J. Fitzgerald, ©1964
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

Dr. Stag Shaylor fascinated Nurse Robin Reid—and most of the people in her home town. Why did the gifted young surgeon live alone in the strange old house? Who were his late-night visitors? Were his unusual medical practices only unorthodox—or dangerous fakery? Robin had to find out the answers—for she sensed that Stag Shaylor could be more exciting—and dangerous—than Robin’s daring hobby of skydiving!

GRADE: B

BEST QUOTES:
“I don’t want to have to pry you away, when the time comes for us to get married. I want you to come peacefully.”

“A fellow has to be lucrative, if he plans to take on a wife, someday.”

“The girls feel they have to comply, in order to succeed. The more daring the neckline, the better. IF a few of us would show a little righteous indignation against violations of good taste … ”

“You look like cotton candy. Good enough to eat.”

“Maybe I’m wise to plan on marriage, after I’ve satisfied my career urges.”

REVIEW:
Not long after bestowing Arlene J. Fitzgerald with the top berth on the list in the 2016 VNRN awards, I picked up Daredevil Nurse—and found it really not so awful. High praise for her.

Alas, the cover illustration does not give us an accurate prediction of what nurse Robin Reid will be getting herself into between the book’s covers. Coming home to Pine Grove, Oregon, after completing her nurse’s training, she is starting her first job at Pine Grove Memorial. She’s also coming home to Jay Bradley, her high school sweetheart, with whom we are repeatedly reminded she has no formal understanding despite a five-year relationship. The couple discusses their future a lot, though, Jay telling her she’ll have to quit her job when they get married. Like all VNRN heroines with a longtime steady, she really doesn’t like much about Jay: He’s reckless, inconsiderate, and not very interested in her. He takes her skydiving regularly, which she doesn’t enjoy at all, but she doesn’t feel comfortable just telling him that. Instead of the practical medical bag she’s long admired, it’s a sky blue parachute he gives her, one that matches the jumpsuit he gave her last year. But “if she wanted Jay Bradley’s love, she had to pretend”—and never mind that it’s not clear why she wants his love in the first place.

Enter the doctor who makes her tachycardic—named, I am very sorry to tell you, Stag Shaylor. He is quite hot, but aloof and distant with the nurses—until he chats up Robin in front of the elevators and starts the gossip mill churning. Soon she’s assisting him in the OR at his request, and defending his unusual practice of talking to the anesthetized patients as if they are conscious, gently encouraging them throughout their surgical procedures. Curiously, the hospital is in uproar about  this harmless idiosyncrasy, and Dr. Stag is on the brink of being drummed out of the hospital for this and for his thoroughly unforgiveable habit of flying his small prop plane out of town every weekend and not telling anyone where he’s going or what he’ll be doing.

Robin eventually is invited to come with him one weekend—and Stag gives her that shiny medical bag she’s been wanting for so long (why didn’t she just buy it for herself?)—but when they arrive, she’s livid to find out he’s running a small general practice in an isolated coastal town. She thinks it’s just a ploy to win her over as he faces a medical board inquiry—as if the truth is some sort of trick, but he invites her to assist him in office hours, and she’s soon won over. The backstory she eventually learns is that Stag’s best friend in medical school was planning to open this clinic, but was attacked by a shark before graduation and died because medical care was too distant to save him.

Meanwhile, Jay conveniently takes a crop-dusting contract out of town for two weeks, freeing Robin to go out with Stag and succumb to his “male demand,” which here is a euphemism for kissing her. Here she begins to demonstrate some fairly nauseous beliefs, such as “knowing with deep, sure feminine instinct, that the only real comfort a man could know came to him through his own aggressiveness.”

A forest fire sends Robin and Stag on a medical mission in his plane to render medical aid to a trapped movie crew. The adventure ends in Robin being offered a movie contract, and Stag tells her he would have proposed if she weren’t going off to Hollywood—and she never bothers to mention, though she’s now in love with Stag, that she has no intention whatsoever of leaving nursing.

Jay comes home and she immediately breaks up with him, now that she feels all is lost with Stag, that “it was up to Dr. Shaylor to come to her, if he was interested. She wanted to shout out her desires, knowing instinctively that if she did, she might lose him for all time. She could only sit quietly, alerted by her knowledge that a man wanted to be the aggressor, had to be, to fulfill his own male urges, just as a woman had to remain silent, as a fulfillment of her best, female self.” She immediately follows up this revolting theory by sky diving out of Stag’s airplane to adjust the landing lights so Stag can land his plane and deliver a baby in his weekend job.

It’s easily the best Arlene Fitzgerald book I’ve read, but it is not without flaws, the most egregious being her insane attitude about being a passive little ornament—which, I should note, she completely undoes at the end of the book by kissing Stag on the mouth when is marriage proposal is interrupted by that darned baby—“it was a wanton thing to do,” she thinks. The I-really-do-love-my-irritating-boyfriend theme is not as badly done here as it is in some VNRNs, as Robin soon realizes that she does not love Jay, though her inability to be upfront with him about her true feelings, while not surprising, is still annoying. Without what I hope are relics of the times, it’s a good read, even if Robin is not the daredevil we are led to believe by the otherwise glorious cover.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Homecoming Nurse

By Rose Dana 
(pseud. William E. Daniel Ross), ©1968

When Jane Weaver’s marriage ended unhappily, she decided to work as a nurse on Boston rather than return to the small town where the romance had begun. But then her father’s hospital in Whitebridge was threatened by a lack of funds and Jane, out of loyalty, went home to help. She had to risk many things – reminders of her past, the censure of her friends, a meeting with Steve Benson, the man she had jilted. But also, Whitebridge itself had changed. A new black doctor had introduced the racial question, people had grown subtly different, and Jane found not the threads of her old life but a new challenge to her heart.

GRADE: B-

BEST QUOTES:
“Then your marriage did turn out as badly as everyone predicted?”

“ ‘Stay away from all that thinking,’ was his advice. ‘Let me do the planning for us.’ ”

“I wish I’d had the good sense to find myself a husband when I was your age.”

“Poor Dr. Davis has lots of ability, even if he is colored, which I’m sure he can’t help. But it does make some of the patients uneasy with him.”

“She looked the mental case she was.”

REVIEW:
This book has more taboos—divorce! racially exclusive country clubs! mental illness! chasing married men! Jello molds!—than any other VNRN I’ve encountered. Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing that sets it apart from the others.

Jane Weaver RN is returning home to Whitebridge, NH, after a two-year stint at the Peter Bent Brigham in Boston. Seems the hospital her father, Dr. Graham Weaver, has championed, is on the brink of being closed by the town council. A larger hospital just an hour’s drive away is siphoning off their patients, and the stress of keeping the hospital afloat is allegedly sapping her father’s health, so she is lured back to care for him.

She’s nervous about seeing her father again, after her marriage to a handsome but alcoholic golf pro, of which he had disapproved from the start, had fallen apart after eight months, but apart from some catty remarks and Jane’s feelings that “I have to expect to suffer for my stupidity, no one really seems to care. And speaking of uncaring, once home, Jane spends little time with her reportedly failing father—who seems tired but otherwise well, actually—and doesn’t pay much attention to how he’s feeling, so it’s a little unclear why she would chuck her former life for such a shallow reason.

Jane’s best friend in Whitebridge, Maggie, is not really dating Dr. Boyd Davis, which is a good thing, because even if he is a polite, competent doctor, the scandal is that he’s black, so his “friendship” with Maggie, clearly a love affair, cannot be called such. Jane is concerned that, should they marry, Dr. Boyd’s practice will be shunned. As it is, the local country club bars Dr. Boyd from the dining room, which doesn’t prevent the town mayor, Jane, Maggie, and Dr. Boyd’s medical colleagues from dining there. “I was going to turn in my membership card,” says Maggie. “But then I realized what a foolish, futile gesture that would be. Everyone would know I did it because I feel as I do about Boyd. They’d pity me, but they wouldn’t change their minds.” All I can say is that it’s a good thing Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King didn’t share her apathy.

You will not be at all surprised to learn that a serious accident occurs in which the victim requires immediate surgery and cannot be transported to the larger hospital in time. Undergoing surgery in the Whitebridge hospital, in an interesting dramatic turn the patient dies nonetheless, and with her any hope fo keeping Benson Memorial open. As Dr. Boyd and other medical colleagues of Dr. Weaver’s flee New Hampshire for warmer pastures and the hospital winds down, will some miracle solution pop up and save the day?

This book offers more to chew on than the usual VNRN. Though the attitudes are extremely dated, the problems with Dr. Boyd and Maggie, and the small hospital’s relevance in the modern era are not presented as obvious one-sided arguments. Apart from that, though, and a couple of wild scenes with the books’ more outrageous vixens, it’s a fairly bland story without much zip to it. Dan Ross, writing here as Rose Dana, has never been one of my favorite authors (witness his cumulative C average over six books). Here he manages to avoid his most outrageous sins (relentlessly referring to characters as “the dark girl,” for one) but can’t really pull off a good book even with more complex themes than usual. If I am compelled by my mission to read his books, you, fortunately, have other options.